Posts Tagged ‘bus’

The (Hidden) High Cost of Cheap Real Estate

September 24th, 2015 4 comments

As jurisdictions balance the need to redevelop “prime” Metrobus garage sites, new facilities are located in less desirable and cheaper real estate submarkets.  That may sound like great business sense, but it has an impact on non-revenue (or “deadhead”) mileage, creating scheduling challenges and adding millions of dollars in additional operating costs to operate Metrobus service. This trend will increase into the future.

Today, Metro dispatches 1,634 buses for 315 bus routes from only nine bus garages spread throughout Virginia, the District, and Maryland. In a perfect world, Metrobuses would magically appear at the start of a bus route and no additional costs would be incurred. In reality, many bus routes begin far from their assigned bus garages, and travel long distances before they can begin service.

Excluding our two youngest bus divisions (both replacement divisions built in the last five years), the median age of our bus divisions is 61.5 years. These facilities need more than just tender loving care to keep up with today’s service demands.  For example, older garages are not equipped to deal with modern buses (the 70-year-old Royal Street bus division was literally too short for modern buses). And only two garages, Four Mile Run in south Arlington and Bladensburg in northeast DC, are equipped to handle Metro’s 457 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.  So often times Metrobus needs new facilities despite the tantalizing prospect of simply refurbishing old ones.  These new facilities fall under the category of “LULU” – Locally Unwanted Land Use.  Many do not want to live near a bus division, but if the region wants bus service, we need bus garages.

So, bus divisions get pushed out farther and farther from central locations and the neighborhoods where the customers are.  All sounds logical so far, except for the fact that the buses now need to travel further to start revenue service.  All of this extra journey time simply to get from the division to the customer adds extra deadhead miles to each route. That deadhead is now starting to cost big bucks.

Since 2007, increased deadhead miles have added $5 million to the cost to operate Metrobus.

Since 2007, increased deadhead miles have added $5 million to the cost to operate Metrobus.

Since 2007, Metrobus’ total operating costs have increased $5 million to cover an increase of 1,700 daily deadhead miles. Closures of bus divisions have had a large impact on operations, steadily increasing daily deadhead miles from the 22,500 mile baseline. The 2008 closure of Southeastern Bus Division (now the Half Street Fairgrounds) as part of the Navy Yard/Nats Park redevelopment caused daily deadhead miles to jump nearly 2,200 miles. Most of the remaining DC garages and Southern were forced over their normal capacity limits, and some service was shifted to Montgomery Division. A year later, the World War II-era Arlington bus division closed and capacity was shifted to the new West Ox Division in Fairfax County. Shepherd Parkway Division opened in 2012, 4 years after its predecessor Southeastern closed, bringing overall deadhead miles about 600 miles shy of the 2007 baseline. Two years later, the Royal Street bus division in Alexandria closed, increasing miles once again.

Metro had intended to hold off closing the Royal Street bus division until after the opening of Cinder Bed Road. The project was substantially delayed to accommodate neighborhood concerns, and we were unable to mitigate the 1,127 mile increase in deadhead during the protracted delay.

The animated graphic below shows the change in deadheading between 2007 and current.  Read more…

Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center Opening September 20th

September 16th, 2015 1 comment

The Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center will open on Sunday, September 20th. After many of years of anticipation, Metrobus, Ride On, and Shuttle-UM are ready to start operations.

Situated next to the Silver Spring Metrorail Station, MARC train station, and Metropolitan Branch Trail, the Silver Spring Transit Center serves as Montgomery County’s multimodal transportation hub. Eventually, the Purple Line Light Rail will also serve the Silver Spring Transit Center.

The Silver Spring Transit Center will replace on-street bus stops with 3 stories of bus bays, taxis, a kiss and ride, and public restrooms. With two separate levels dedicated to bus operations and over 125 buses per hour expected during peak periods, Metrobus operations have been busy preparing for the big day. We got a chance to take a tour and share a few photos.  Click on any photo for a larger version.

The following Metrobus routes will have stops inside the transit center. See the directory below to prepare yourself for the opening of the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center. Read more…

Categories: In The News Tags: , ,

Metrobus is Collecting Your Input for Annual Bus Service Adjustments

September 15th, 2015 3 comments

Time is running out to provide your input on proposed Metrobus changes.

Every year, Metrobus planners propose service changes to maintain a Bus State of Good Operations (SOGO). This year’s official public participation period went live on Saturday, August 15 and will close at 5:00pm on Wednesday, September 23.  That’s less than two weeks away!

Halfway through the public comment period, we thought we would give you sense of the process so far.

  • More than 3,000 online surveys have been completed.  Two-thirds of these returns are from direct email outreach to customers using affected routes. If you are interested in receiving invitations to similar online surveys in the future, please register your SmarTrip card.

    Bus SOGO outreach 2015

    Bus SOGO outreach 2015

  • With more than 20 outreach events completed or scheduled, we are collecting feedback by going straight to the customer.  Metro staff is out riding buses and showing up at bus stops and rail stations.  We understand not everyone can go online so we are coming to them.  Look for us and help us improve your bus experience.
  • These outreach activities have resulted in more than 2,000 written comments from customers all over the region.
  • At the time of this writing, the elimination of the 5A is not being well received nor is the elimination of the segment between McPherson Square and Kennedy Center on the Route 80.  Many in the District are giving favorable marks to the free transfer between Capitol Heights/Addison Road Metrorail stations for select routes.  Maryland customers are also excited for the Q Line free transfer to and from the Metrorail Red Line between Wheaton and Silver Spring.
  • In addition to English-language replies, we have received completed surveys from Spanish, Vietnamese, and Amharic speakers.  Customers from all economic and ethnic groups are chiming in as well.

We want to hear more from our customers to see how these changes would affect your travel choices. Let us know how major service changes would impact you. Join the conversation by reading the official docket and submitting your thoughts online or in person.

-Email your comments to
-Talk to Metro staff at a pop-up event
-Take an online survey
-Attend the public hearing on Thursday, September 17 at WMATA HQ (600 5th St NW, Washington, DC 20001).

Metro to Create First Regional Open Transit Schedule Data Feed

September 14th, 2015 2 comments

Metro is coordinating with other regional agencies to release a single data file that will contain schedule data for all transit operators in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Over 10 years ago, Metro began coordinating with local bus operators and commuter rail agencies to incorporate all of their transit schedules into Trip Planner.  It took some time and effort, but eventually Metro reached agreements with all the operators in the region and began to consolidate transit schedules in one online, searchable data source.  In fact, Metro’s Trip Planner is the most comprehensive online data source for regional transit trip planning.  So much so, that when the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) needs to update their four-step travel demand model they request all of the region’s transit schedules from Metro and we deliver them as a General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) file.

Over two years ago, we posted here a data visualization of that GTFS file developed by STLTransit.  GreaterGreaterWashington subsequently published a post advocating for the public release of this regional GTFS file, arguing that it would fill a big gap in regional online transit trip planning.  There are two primary benefits of Metro releasing this file:

  • Sites and app developers can load one data file for all the region’s transit instead of downloading separate files for each agency.
  • Only some agencies in the region publish their own GTFS files, and releasing this file will make several agencies’ schedule data available online for the first time.

Over the past two years, Metro staff have worked to negotiate the release of this GTFS file.  We were pleased reach out to the other regional operators in July requesting sign-off on a regional data-sharing agreement that would permit Metro to release the other agencies’ data online in this GTFS format.  We are excitedly awaiting executed agreements from the operators, and we’ve received one back already, thanks RideOn!  Once we have received a few more replies, we will begin to publish a regional file including the data of all agencies that have executed the agreement.

In the meantime, feel free to contact your local bus, commuter bus or commuter rail operator and ask that they expedite the signing of this regional transit schedule data sharing agreement.

Categories: Engage Tags: , , , ,

Since Time is Money, Metro Wants a Business Partner to Help Metrobus Go More and Stop Less

September 11th, 2015 3 comments

Metro is exploring opportunities to partner with a private company or investor to pilot off-board SmarTrip® loading to help improve customer travel times and lower our operating costs.

Metrobus speeds have steadily decreased over time as the region grew and traffic worsened. This not only negatively impacts Metro customers, but also increases our operating costs. As traffic congestion erodes bus speeds, we need to deploy more vehicles and operators on the busiest routes in order to maintain service frequencies. We know that behind the statistics stand legions of bus riders who want faster service, as well as counties and cities that want lower bills for that service.

Crowded boarding and long dwell times

Crowded boarding and long dwell times

Off-Board Fare Payment and Transit Prioritization

There is no silver bullet to speed up transit. Instead, agencies can use a combination of technology and on-street treatments to increase bus speeds and move more passengers. One of the few prioritization strategies Metro can undertake on its own is allowing off-board fare loading, moving all SmarTrip® value loading from the farebox to kiosks near bus stops. This would reduce the amount of time it takes for passengers to board buses and pay fares, in turn speeding up bus trips.  We have looked into this in the past and have recently revisited this important concept. Read more…

Two Business Challenges Facing Metrobus

September 2nd, 2015 5 comments

In the past 17 years, Metrobus has faced dual challenges: increased competition and increased roadway congestion.

Market Share Decline 1998-2013 v2

A past post discussed the role of the 1997 Blue Ribbon Mobility Panel in resetting the regional role and funding structure for Metrobus. In the decade-plus since then, several trends have emerged:  Local operators are rolling out more and more bus service, and buses are getting slower.

Read more…

Preparing for the Future of Metrobus

August 17th, 2015 2 comments

Since the signing of the WMATA compact more than 40 years ago, there has been an ongoing debate about the role of Metrobus as the Washington region’s primary bus service provider. 

Prior to the formation of Metrobus in 1973, bus services in the Washington region were operated by numerous private providers across the region operating on dedicated lanes, many of which were operating at a loss.  In the 1970s, Metro consolidated bus service under the Metrobus brand and increased service and headways throughout the WMATA compact area.  While Metro’s role as the regional rail provider has always been clear, its role as a bus provider has been more nuanced.

Old DC Transit and Metrobuses from the 1960s and 70s

This is the first in a series of posts which aim to provide a brief overview of the efforts undertaken over the past 20 years by Metro, and its regional partners,  to balance the responsibilities and funding of Metrobus with the wants and needs of our jurisdictional partners all while maintaining our regionally focused mission.

Read more…

Study: Just Six Tracks Carry 30% of People Across the Potomac (57 Highway Bridge Lanes Carry the Rest)

July 29th, 2015 2 comments

A new Virginia study (PDF) finds that Metro and other transit operators carry a major portion of all cross-Potomac travel in a just a few crossings, using far less space than the 57 highway bridge lanes that carry the rest. If built, an expanded bridge crossing will need transit to maximize its ability to move people across the river.

PotomacRiverStudy Map

Transit’s Role is Critical

While some media outlets focused on the study’s highway expansion recommendation, the presentation acknowledged that Metro, VRE, and other bus operators plays a major role in the movement of people across the river from Virginia to DC in the core of the region. Seeing that, we thought we we’d drill down further to estimate how many people are actually crossing the river, using which bridge, and by what mode. Supplementing the study with available transit ridership data and vehicle occupancy data (PDF), we arrived at the following estimates: Read more…

Metro Takes Electric Demonstration Bus On The Road

July 27th, 2015 No comments

Electric bus demonstration on-site at Metro

Electric Bus New Flyer 060105 Electric Bus New Flyer 060105

 Metro staff conducted a hands-on review of all-electric bus technology this month with a manufacturer demonstration for Bus Engineering, Bus Planning, Marketing and Sustainability staff. While the Authority has made no commitment to purchasing all-electric buses, on-site demonstrations such as this enable staff to explore the emerging technology and better understand its performance and operational characteristics first hand.

Electric Bus New Flyer 060105Metrobus fleet fuel economy has improved 15% since 2005 through the expanded use of hybrid buses and improved performance across the entire bus fleet. As the Authority seeks to build upon this efficiency, conducting market research into all-electric technology provides staff with a direct experience of this near-silent and tailpipe emissions-free technology. Low-vibration electric buses such as the one demonstrated offer a smoother ride and eliminate the urban-noise and air-pollution impacts of existing bus technology. In the future, this technology has the potential to enhance the overall livability of our cities, particularly in dense urbanized areas with high frequency bus services. In the coming months other manufacturers will be visiting Metro as part of the Authority’s market research of all-electric bus technology and investigation into best locations for potential roll out.

Categories: Sustainability Tags: ,

A Bus Named Desire – What We Heard at StreetsCamp 2015

July 9th, 2015 11 comments

In part 2 of the series, StreetsCamp participants had a number of ideas to make buses better – all buses, not just Metrobus.

A Bus Named Desire - Comments from StreetscampA Bus Named Desire was the question of the day at Metro Planning staff’s StreetsCamp session last Saturday. We asked what participants thought would make a better bus – from any perspective. What are the things that transit agencies and local jurisdictions could do speed up buses, increase the level of comfort for potential riders to ride the bus, change service, etc.

Here’s what we heard, grouped by topic:


  • Bus lanes, bus lanes, bus lanes (WMATA note – there are some great corridors for these. Please also let your city/county know you think they are important. They own and operate the streets!)
  • Bus routes that offer better connections to destinations far from Metro stations
  • Take station relocation and system redesign seriously. Build partnerships with community organizations. (WMATA note – both a regional approach, as well as line by line, are underway!)
  • Consolidate stops on every line to save time and money. Buses don’t need to stop every block.
  • More frequent off-peak service
  • Add express service from Maryland suburbs

Read more…